Times Doesn't Recognize Hateful Protestors at Tiller's Funeral

Does the Times consider the viciously anti-gay protestors of Westboro Baptist Church (who have picketed the funerals of U.S. soldiers) part of the pro-life movement?

Does the Times really consider the viciously anti-gay protestors of Westboro Baptist Church (who have picketed, among other funerals, those honoring U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan) to be genuine pro-life protestors? That's the impression left by the uninformed coverage of the funeral of abortionist George Tiller, who performed partial-birth abortions in his Wichita clinic before being killed last week.

Reporter Monica Davey made sure to underline the "conservative" nature of Wichita, Kan., "In Wichita, a Shuttered Clinic Leaves Abortion Protesters at a Loss."

Three photos accompanied the print edition of Davey's story, included one that showed the unlabeled Westboro Baptist Church protestors (identifiable by a man wearing the "God Hates Fags" shirt) with this photo caption: "The protests continued after Dr. Tiller's death, including at his funeral." This photo appears to have been removed from the online version of the article, although it featured prominently on nytimes.com Monday morning. (I captured the image, featured above,before it disappeared.)

The Westboro Baptist Church is a small, viciously anti-gay group in Topeka, Kan., led by Fred Phelps, most of whose members are related to him, and which has no connection to any kind of mainstream Christianity or pro-life group.

For the first time in years, only a Wichita police car has been waiting outside the abortion clinic of Dr.George R. Tiller, who was shot to death a week ago. Gone are the trucks bearing enormous images of bloody fetuses, the signs offering the home addresses of clinic workers, the crowd of protesters yelling to women as they enter.

Over almost 20 years, a vocal, diverse constellation of anti-abortion forces has grown up in this conservative city with an intensity rarely seen elsewhere, converging around Dr. Tiller's practice. With his death, its future suddenly seems uncertain, too.

This city of 358,000 people, once the focal point of protests because of four abortion clinics - most significantly Dr. Tiller's, which provided rare late-term abortions - last week had no abortion facility open for business, no target in chief, no immediate reason for this network of anti-abortion forces to be based here.

How does Davey know that partial-birth abortions are rare, given there are no official statistics on the gruesome procedure?

In Kansas, battles have been waged endlessly over matters of morality - alcohol, gambling, cigarettes, the teaching of evolution, abortion. And Wichita, once a town popular with cattle drovers on their way from East Texas and now a manufacturing center for aircraft makers, has a solidly conservative, religious grounding.

David Barstow's Sunday story from Tiller's funeral, "Kansas Doctor Remembered as Devoted to Family and Women," also failed to point out the tiny, extremist nature of the funeral protestors.

George R. Tiller, the Wichita physician who was shot dead in his church last week, was remembered at his funeral Saturday as a man of courage who showed uncommon grace in the face of constant challenge to his medical practice, which included late-term abortions.

"He is in a much better place now, a safe place, a place where he is free," said Dr. Tiller's son, Maury, who did not need to remind anyone at the service that his father rarely went in public without a bullet-proof vest.

The Times seemed surprised that no one in the public eye stepped forward to offer tribute to the abortionist, and lumped the Westboro Baptist Church extremists with other "abortion opponents."

Yet while the death of Dr. Tiller, who was 67, brought a quick condemnation from the White House, prominent Kansas politicians were hard to spot at the funeral.

Representatives of the major anti-abortion groups in Wichita were nowhere to be seen either, although a dozen or so abortion opponents gathered in a holding area a few blocks from the church.

One protest sign read "God Sent the Shooter," an apparent reference to Scott P. Roeder, the anti-abortion campaigner who has been charged with first-degree murder in Dr. Tiller's death.

Again, those are protestors from Westboro Baptist Church, a simple fact the Associated Press's Roxana Hegeman managed to figure out:

About 30 abortion rights supporters lined a sidewalk outside the church Sunday, each holding a white carnation and one with a sign declaring Tiller, his family and his staff as "civil rightsheroes." Many wore green or blue T-shirts commemorating Tiller's life, with theNational Organization for Women's logo.

Most anti-abortion groups avoided the funeral, having denounced Tiller's shooting. But 17 demonstrators showed up fromWestboro Baptist Church, known for picketing soldiers' funerals to present its message that their deaths are God's punishment for Americans' tolerance of homosexuality.

They held signs such as "God sent the shooter" and "Abortion is bloody murder."